When Check-Paying Goes Awry, Who’s Responsible for Making It Right?

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Photo: iStockphoto

Here at Grub Street, we spend plenty of time in restaurants, so few things faze us. But recently something that's never happened to us before did happen, and we're not quite sure how we should have reacted. We want your advice!

We were at a very nice restaurant we'd been to a handful of times, having a very nice meal. Even by very-nice-restaurant standards, things were very, very nice. (They did this smoked-haddock amuse thing that was, like, whoa. And don't even get us started on the kitchen tour.) Anyway, eventually the bill came, it was about what we thought it'd be (that is to say: a lot), and we split the amount with our companion, happily. They ran our cards, we got our coats, we left. Not a bad way to spend a night, we said to ourselves.

But later, something kept nagging at us: We thought about how much we'd tipped and it occurred to us, wait, that can't be right. So we looked back at our copy of the check. No, it seemed we'd tipped the right amount on what we were charged. But wait. Turns out we'd been charged way, way less than we should have been, but only after they'd split the bill and run our cards. (We should say here that we're no strangers to having things comped, but restaurants always let you know before they run the cards; this seemed like it was probably a mistake.) Ideally we would have just caught this when it happened, but you know how these things are: We'd been there a few hours, were full, had lots of cocktails, wine, etc. We aren't at our sharpest in those moments. But so: We called the restaurant, wanting to make right. And after explaining the situation to the hostess, a manager picked up and said, uh, yeah, the restaurant actually had made a mistake.

Then he presented us with options: agree to pay the amount we already had, or give him our credit-card number and pay whatever additional amount we wanted. (The amount we were undercharged was, like, hundreds of dollars.) Suddenly, the impetus was on us and, to be honest, we weren't really expecting that and felt a little icky about it. We figured the manager would say it was their mistake and he hoped we'd had a good night — we had! — and that's that, but we were instead talking specific dollars and cents with him and reading out our credit-card number for him.

We've spent a lot of time working and eating in nice restaurants, and we were still genuinely conflicted! For the record, we did pay the extra money and we're feeling good about our karma today, but we're curious: What would you have done? Just said, yes, it was the restaurant's mistake and too bad for them? Or awkwardly paid the extra couple hundred bucks over the phone?